The quintessential call for repentance is found in the Old Testament book of Jonah which reveals that Israel was never chosen as an expression of racial favoritism. Rather they were chosen as a light to the nations. Out of a patient desire that none should perish, God directs the Israeli prophet Jonah to call the Assyrian city of Nineveh to repent of their evil ways.
In response, the Ninevites did the unthinkable. The city “declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.”
Imagine. A prostituted pagan city repenting in sackcloth and ashes. “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.”
And the great Assyrian city is not alone. Many nations throughout history have repented and prayed for the mercy of God. America is one of them. In the midst of civil war, Lincoln called on all Americans to participate in a national day of humiliation, fasting, prayer and repentance:
We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel that necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! Thus, said Lincoln, “It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”
And that is what happened. On April 30, 1863, the American people in compliance with the request of the Senate and the proclamation of Lincoln abstained from ordinary secular pursuits, humbled themselves, and in deep repentance devoted themselves to fasting and prayer for the restoration of a divided country.
Such times of national repentance find precedent throughout sacred Scripture and provide an apt example for us to follow in the context of the current Coronavirus pandemic. This is precisely why, my Singaporean friend Elijah Widjaja (the man to whom I dedicated Truth Matters, Life Matters More), asked me to ask you to join me in taking three simple yet life altering steps:
1) Pray the Lord’s Prayer 3 times a day (morning, noon, and evening). This is in concert with the practice of the early Christian Church—a practice derived from the ancient Jews who prayed the Hebrew Shema, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” In the Didache, an ancient Church catechism which may well have been in circulation prior to the destruction of Jerusalem (70 A.D.), the early Church was instructed to pray morning, noon, and evening in the manner of the prophet Daniel substituting the Lord’s Prayer in place of the Shema.
2) Pray 3 times a day for 21 days. In Daniel 10, we read that Daniel not only prayed three times a day but did so for twenty-one days. Thereafter Daniel experienced a breathtaking answer to his supplications. One of the attendant benefits to inaugurating a pattern of prayer for 21 days is that it will likely establish an unbreakable prayer pattern for the rest of your days.
3) Pray as did our Lord and Savior for unity in the body of Christ: “I do not pray for theses alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” A global church fused together around the essentials of the historic Christian faith is the answer to Christ’s Priestly Prayer (John 17). Divided, the churches’ energy remains limited and toxic. United to God and unified to one another, the church is empowered by an unlimited flow of divine energy by which to provide life and light to the world. To paraphrase David in Psalm 133, “How good and pleasant it is when the body of Christ lives together in unity! For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”
Allow me to conclude by evoking the principle of multiplication. Just as the Coronavirus knows no borders. So too the principle of multiplication can spread Elijah’s prophetic message of prayer, unity, and repentance throughout the globe. Over the past several days I have begun to call ministry leaders in order that they may begin to spread this message to those within the sphere of their influence. I can easily imagine ministries that reach hundreds of thousands becoming a catalyst to reaching literally billions within a short period of time. In sum, I urge the body of Christ not to miss this opportunity. Time is constant, but opportunities are not.
Connect with Hank Hanegraaff, the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and the Christian Research Journal
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